Face of Defense: Soldier Overcomes Hardship, Keeps Desire to Serve
By Army Sgt. 1st Class J.B. Jaso III
Special to American Forces Press Service
ISTAQLAL, Iraq, Jan. 27, 2009 From the waves of California to the deserts of Iraq, Army Spc. David Denson always has had a desire to serve others.
Army Spc. David Denson of Hanalei, Hawaii, patrols the town of Husseniyah, Iraq, Sept. 14, 2008. Denson helps Iraqi security forces maintain security in this northeastern Baghdad community. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class J.B. Jaso III
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Through tragedy and hardship, the 37-year-old infantryman, surfer and single father never gave up on that quest.
Denson’s determination began at a young age. People told the Oceanside, Calif., native that he couldn’t surf the Southern California waves with the professionals. However, Denson dedicated his youth to surfing. He surfed hard and started his professional surfing career.
“I busted my butt,” Denson said, in regard to the effort it took to surf at the professional level. “I wasn’t Tom Curren [a professional surfer], but I got to where I wanted to be.”
Where he wanted to be was in surfer’s paradise: Hawaii.
Denson moved to the island of Kauai in 1991, where he surfed the crystal-clear Hawaiian waters and adapted to the culture there.
Just months after Denson moved to Kauai, Hurricane Iniki struck in September 1992, destroying his home and all of his belongings. Despite his personal misfortune, Denson said, he felt the need to do everything he could to assist his new community.
“It doesn’t take much to be a part of a community,” he said. “My parents taught me to be a good guy and do what is right.”
He gave up surfing to help to rebuild homes, and he became a Salvation Army volunteer.
During this time, Denson learned about Hawaiian cultures and traditions. Assisting him was Hawaiian native Leiliwin Kalei Mahuiki. Mahuiki and Denson fell in love and married in September 1995.
While they raised their four girls, Denson became an activist for Hawaiian rights. “I assisted in researching the issues that the Hawaiians believed in,” he said. “I wanted to make my family proud and be a good role model for my kids.”
But in 2001, tragedy struck. Denson and his pregnant wife were involved in a vehicle accident that led to the death of his wife and unborn child.
“I was devastated,” Denson said after the accident. “I learned how fast life can change and what’s important.
He said he worked hard to raise his four daughters, now 7 through 12 years old. The girls are fluent in their native Hawaiian language and, like their dad, they all surf.
In 2006, Denson decided it was time to continue his selfless service to those in need, and joined the Army.
“Spreading freedom to another country is similar to sticking up for the Hawaiians,” Denson said.
Denson now is deployed to Iraq, serving as an infantryman with Multinational Division Baghdad’s Company A, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment. For the past 14 months, he has assisted Iraqi security forces in securing the northern Baghdad region. This additional security has allowed the Iraqi government to provide much-needed essential services -- medical aid, education, water and electricity -- to the residents.
“We’re trying to make a difference in people’s lives,” Denson said.
Denson has connected well not only with the local populace, but also with the younger soldiers in his squad. “The guys call me ‘Dad,’” Denson said. “I enjoy working with the young soldiers and watching them grow.”
“He is a person everyone goes to as a mentor,” Army Sgt. Nathan Taylor, Denson’s squad leader, said. “He is respected, and everyone knows he has a wealth of knowledge because of his previous experiences.”
As he completes his 15-month tour in Iraq, Denson said, he is looking forward to spending time with his girls.
“I tell my girls that terrorists don’t tend to the needs of the people,” Denson said. “We did the right thing here, making the time to do the right missions.”
(Army Sgt. 1st Class J.B. Jaso III serves in the 25th Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.)